Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Friday he did not believe Palestinian rioting in Jerusalem and the West Bank would develop into an all-out intifada, or popular uprising, as violent incidents were reported throughout the region, but on a limited scale.
“I’ve seen several intifadas and it doesn’t seem to me [to be heading that way] at the moment,” he told reporters while visiting Jerusalem’s Old City with top police officials to oversee security arrangements. “We’ll continue to look after Jerusalem.”
Despite the Palestinian Authority’s call for a “Day of Rage” throughout the West Bank Friday and the temporary complete closure of the al-Aqsa compound on the Temple Mount on Thursday for the first time in 14 years, the situation in the capital was overall calmer than police had feared – perhaps partly due to intermittent heavy rains in the city — and the traditional Friday noon prayers ended without much incident.
“Forty-five hundred people entered [the al-Aqsa compound] to pray today,” Aharonovitch said. “The situation is quiet.”
Some sporadic violence was reported in the West Bank. Outside Ramallah several hundred people marched towards the Qalandiya checkpoint and some of them threw rocks at soldiers. Security forces said they used non-lethal means to disperse the crowds. The Ma’an Palestinian news agency, however, claimed that eight Palestinians were injured by live fire, one of them critically.
Several other altercations were reported in the Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus areas – but none were reported to have developed into serious incidents.
In Jerusalem a group of young East Jerusalem Palestinians attempted to storm a police cordon around the Temple Mount but were repelled. As police and protesters faced off on the Mount, fireworks were fired at police from nearby rooftops in the Old City; rioters also gathered in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz and pelted police with rocks. They were dispersed using riot control methods.
Entrance to the Temple Mount was restricted Friday to men over 50 and women only in order to help prevent violence in the wake of the attempted assassination of Yehudah Glick, a prominent advocate for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and the subsequent killing of his alleged attacker, Mut’az Hijazi, a resident of Jerusalem’s mixed Abu Tor neighborhood and Islamic Jihad activist who had served more than 10 years in jail. Hijazi’s killing prompted the PA to call for a day of rallies throughout the region.
Police said they killed Hijazi after he opened fire on them during an arrest attempt in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor. Palestinian officials charged Hijazi was killed in cold blood.
Adnan Gaith, the head of Fatah in Jerusalem, called the killing “terrorism.”
Hijazi was buried outside Jerusalem’s Old City, near the Lion Gate, late Thursday night with a heavy police presence to prevent the funeral becoming a riot. Despite a court order limiting the number of mourners to 45, about 300 people followed his body into the cemetery, but police did not try to stop them by force.
Glick, a US-born activist who has lobbied for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount — known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims — was shot four times Wednesday night while leaving a Jerusalem conference. He was still in serious condition Friday morning, but later Friday doctors reported an improvement in his condition.
The temporary closure of the Temple Mount, the third-holiest site in Islam and holiest place in Judaism, sparked Palestinian anger and international concern. It marked the first time the site was closed since the 2000 visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon which was the match that lit the last intifada.
Aharonovitch said the move was necessary to prevent clashes from spiraling out of control.
“It was the right step to take,” he said. “When there is concern of rioting both by right-wing activists and by [Palestinians] that’s what had to be done.
Some 3,000 police were deployed throughout the city Friday to ward off violence as Jewish-Arab tensions remained high in the capital.
Two residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, both aged 22, were arrested Friday morning after police observed them preparing to throw stones at the light rail as it passed through their neighborhood.
Police approached the two, who were holding a slingshot and rocks, but they fled. After a brief pursuit, they were arrested and were brought for a remand hearing Friday at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
At 5 a.m., a bus headed from Jerusalem to the Ben Gurion International Airport on Road 443, which passes through the West Bank, was struck by rocks thrown by Palestinians standing at the side of the road.
The front and side-door windows were damaged in the attack.
Police arrested a Palestinian in the village of Sawahra, near Maale Adumim, overnight Thursday, finding two Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition in his home.
The Israel Defense Forces also arrested three Palestinians in the northern West Bank early Friday for participating in violent demonstrations and throwing firebombs.
One was arrested in a village south of Jenin, and two others near Nablus.
Jerusalem has seen several weeks of unrest in a number of flashpoint neighborhoods, including rock-throwing incidents, Molotov cocktail attacks and clashes with police by firework-armed protesters. Police presence in the city has been beefed up in an effort to quell the unrest, which flared earlier this month after a Palestinian man drove his car into a crowded train station, killing two.
Thursday also saw sporadic riots around East Jerusalem, including in Abu Tor, Jabel Mukaber and the Old City.
The US Consulate in Jerusalem barred its officials from entering the Old City on Friday out of fear of unrest, and urged caution for US citizens in East Jerusalem.
Much of the anger on the Arab street was directed against the closure of the Temple Mount.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the closure aimed “to prevent riots and escalation, as well as to restore calm and the status quo to the Holy Places.”
Officials from the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which administers the compound, said it was the first closure since Israel seized Arab east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War, though Israeli media said it had been closed in 2000.
“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said through his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, warning it would only fuel “more tension and instability.”
Jordan’s Islamic affairs minister, Hayel Daoud, said it amounted to a case of Israeli “state terrorism.” Under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, Jordan has responsibility for Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
Former Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, claimed Israel was set to impose separate new arrangements for Jewish and Muslim prayers on the Mount, and that the “Zionist enemy… seriously intends to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Netanyahu said last week that Israel has no intention to change the status quo on the mount.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry called for Israel to open the site and keep the status quo in the compound, where Jewish prayer is currently banned.
Any change, he said in a statement, would be “provocative and dangerous.”
Kerry said he was in touch with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders to calm tensions.
AFP contributed to this report.